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Even through my candy-cane tinted glasses, I can see that there is a distinction between good and bad Christmas decorations. A decoration is supposed to be something that adorns, enriches, and beautifies an object. A bad Christmas decoration is one that is so obtrusive that it draws attention to itself to the exclusion of whatever it’s supposed to be adorning. Or a bad decoration is one that does not enrich, but rather makes an object appear less beautiful than its original state.

That’s not to say that everyone should have my taste. I prefer greens and reds and whites and silvers in my decorations. I could understand if others prefer blues and golds and various other colors. I like my decorations to be simple and understated. I wouldn’t complain if decorations were just large and obvious.

Now, in contrast with decorations, there are objects of art. I’ve seen people put out nativity scenes under their tree or just out in their living rooms to stand as seasonal works of art and that’s fine. A nativity scene shows the traditionally recognized origin of the holiday, so it makes sense to have it displayed as a commemoration for the duration. If you like Santa Claus and want to display representations of him and his reindeer around inside and out of your home, that sounds reasonable, too.

Some examples of decorations that I would call bad would be the very large figures of snowmen, reindeer, Santa Claus, elves, Jesus Christ, the Three Wise Men, the nativity scene… Basically if the large figures are approximately the size of a human being, they have stopped being decorations and have started to become affronts to the people who choose to celebrate Christmas but still have a sense of aesthetics. Large lawn ornaments that move around or blink are not good. Words constructed out of lights — I’ve seen artists build that into something moving and thought-provoking, but “Merry Christmas” and “Ho Ho Ho” seem too obvious and derivative to be art. None of these things add beauty to a home or lawn, but somehow people seem to be willing to overlook that in the name of Christmas. I am not so willing.

A real snow man on a lawn is an understandable decoration — you gather up the snow that’s fallen in front of the house, put it together into the shape of a man and it is a recognizable symbol of winter and fun. Maybe you’re just clearing off the snow from the ground, perhaps you are putting up a figure to protect you from enemies, or you could just be looking for a good time. But an inflatable or plastic snow man… is a recognizable symbol of entrepreneurs taking advantage of consumer gullibility. A fake snow man is just sad. The only thing sadder than a fake snowman in a front yard is fake christmas tree in the front yard. Both of those embellishments ignore the real beauty and fun that can be found around us in favor of artificiality for the sake of laziness or grandstanding.

I could concede that lawn ornaments that look like woodland creatures might be acceptable. After all, you could see deer on a lawn, so a fake one just captures that natural beauty and makes it available all the time. It’s much harder to have a real deer stay still in front of your house than to have an immobile tree. But lawn ornaments that look like Santa and his sleigh and his train of reindeer don’t make sense. If you did capture Santa and freeze him on your lawn or roof, would that mean that you’ve killed him? Would it mean that he stopped at your home and couldn’t continue to visit all the other homes? It just doesn’t seem to convey a positive message.

I think it’s understandable that we do actually recognize the natural beauty of winter and thus set out decorations to show our appreciation of such. Therefore, emphasizing the snow and evergreen trees makes sense. Draping lights around trees outside in order to illuminate their shapes makes for an attractive display. Hanging swaths and garlands and wreaths inside your home to bring inside some of the beauty that you recognize from the outdoors also makes sense. Of course it’s sensible if you like the appearance of a crisp evergreen landscape in the winter, that you might want to have some of that same appearance inside your home. For that matter, it’s hard for me to think of a natural phenomenon that is both so common and so pretty as freshly fallen snow, so adding some flocking to your decor is also perfectly reasonable. It would look better to have real snow on your Christmas tree or wreath, but obviously that snow would melt and be impractical.

The decorated tree itself is frankly just an aspect to Christmas that I think is pretty. I find conical evergreens to be the most beautiful of trees all year round, so when I find that they are sold at this time of the year in convenient take-away preparations, I choose to take advantage of that. But the roots of the tree celebration are apocryphal at best, mythological at worst. Whether you choose to recognize the tree as the pre-christian religions may have (as a symbol of the ending of one yearly cycle of life and death and a precursor of the next year to come) or as a physical representation of the Christian trinity in living geometrical shape (as St. Boniface attempted to claim to germanic tribes in the 16th century) as or just a pleasantly scented tradition, it seems like a tradition we can all get behind. The only part of a Christmas tree celebration that I dislike is when an overt attempt is made to have a tree that is obviously neither a real tree nor a reasonable representation of one. I therefore dislike trees that are strangely colored or wholly artificial as if they are made of metal or glass.

As to Christmas tree ornaments…. I can’t say that I can recall ever seeing anything hanging from a Christmas tree that didn’t seem well within the range of what I’d call “decoration”. I imagine if you hung something on a tannenbaum that was so large that it began to tip the tree in one direction or another, I’d call foul to that.

My friends wonder that I am so critical of decorations when I’m trying to pursue the spirit of Christmas. I say to them that no matter how much I like the holiday, I’m not going to accept its occurrence as a blanket pardon for acts of bad taste. Besides, maybe all of the ugly decorations have contributed to people disliking Christmas over the years. If that’s the case, then this diatribe might actually serve the purpose of a public service announcement. In fact, I’ll declare it so: Save Christmas by Decorating Well!

About Paul Roth

A vegetarian, agnostic, lindy-hopping, dog-loving tv-watcher who likes to read his own words.
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